The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on Sunday 9 January 2022 at Olembe stadium in Yaoundé, with the host, Cameroon, taking on Burkina Faso at 5pm local time. The tournament will see the top 24 teams compete for the title, with the final match to be held on Sunday 6 February 2022. AfCON is also an opportunity for Africa’s top talent to display their skills to fans and football scouts. We have identified the top five experienced players who will be making a return to the tournament and the five rising stars who will be debuting at AfCON for the first time.

EXPERIENCED PLAYERS

1.   Sadio Mané (29)

Sadio Mané
Sadio Mané

Country: Senegal

Club: Liverpool. Annual salary of £5.2m

Position: Forward/ Winger

Mane is a vital sprocket of Jürgen Klopp’s lethal Liverpool attack, making him one of the top forwards in the world. He finished fourth in the 2021 Ballon d’Or and won the Premier League title in 2020 and the UEFA Champions League in 2019.

The Senegalese captain is also a major offensive asset for the Les Lions de la Téranga. Senegal will be looking to do better than AfCON 2019 where Les Lions were the runner-up to the eventual champions, Algeria.

2.   Riyad Mahrez (30)

Country: Algeria (Captain)

Club: Manchester City. Annual salary of £6.2m

Position: Winger

The Algerian star won the Premier League title with Leicester City in 2016 and with Manchester City in 2019 after becoming the most expensive African footballer when he was transferred for £60m. He became the first African to be named the Professional Footballers’ Association Players’ player of the Year award. He finished seventh in the 2016 Ballon d’Or.

The Les Fennecs captain will be hoping Algeria will become the fourth team (after Egypt in 1959, 2008 and 2010), Ghana (1965), and Cameroon (2002) to win back-to-back AfCON titles and a third title overall.

3.   André Onana (25)

Country: Cameroon

Club: Ajax. Annual salary of £1.7m

Position: Goalkeeper

The Cameroonian trained at the Samuel Eto’o Foundation before joining Barcelona in 2010 and then Ajax in 2015, where he has earned reputation as one of best young goalies in Europe. He was banned for 9 months in early 2021 for taking a banned substance and fell out with the Ajax fans. It was reported earlier this week that he is undergoing medicals for a move to Inter Milan.

Onana will be a key member of The Lions Indomptables squad vying for a sixth AfCON title with home advantage.

4.   Mo Salah (29)

Mo Salah
Mo Salah

Country: Egypt (Captain)

Club: Liverpool. Annual salary of £10.4m

Position: Forward

Mohamed Salah is one of the top players to watch out for this AfCON, particularly since he has been in excellent form for Liverpool. He won the Golden Foot in 2021 and finishing seventh in the 2021 Ballon d’Or; and won the Premier League title in 2020 and the UEFA Champions League in 2019.

Salah hopes to guide The Pharaohs to their eighth African title – they have won the tournament more times than any other country in Africa. Egypt is expected to sail through the group stages where they will compete against Nigeria, Sudan, and Guinea-Bissau.

5.   Edmond Tapsoba (22)

Country: Burkina Faso

Club: Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Annual salary of £2.7m

Position: Centre-back

Due to a syndesmosis tear, Tapsoba missed the commencement of the Bundesliga season. The Bayer Leverkusen centre-back is one of the most courted defenders in the world and has a reputation for converting penalty kicks. He leads the defence for Burkina Faso, as Les Étalons will endeavour to reach the top. Les Étalons will play the opening match against the hosts, Cameroon, on Sunday 9 January 2022.

DEBUTANTS

6.   Kelechi Iheanacho (25)

Country: Nigeria

Club: Leicester City. Annual salary of £3.1m

Position: Forward

Iheanacho is amongst the top AfCON debutant to follow. In 2013, he won the U-17 World Cup, prior to his major move to Manchester City. He first played for the Nigeria senior team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Owing to the absence of the Super Eagles at the 2015 and 2017 AfCON, as well as missing out on the 2019 AfCON due to a lack of form, this will be Iheanacho’s first appearance. All eyes will be on him and Salah when Egypt and Nigeria meet on 11 January 2022 at Roumdé Adjia stadium in Garoua.

7.   Hannibal Mejbri (18)

Hannibal Mejbri
Hannibal Mejbri

Country: Tunisia

Club: Manchester United. Annual salary of £676k

Position: Midfielder

Despite being only 18-years-old, Mejbri has been playing football for more than a decade after joining Paris FC in 2009. He also played for Boulogne-Billancourt and Monaco before joining Manchester United U21 in 2019. He joined the senior team in May 2021. The Les Aigles de Carthage will be hoping to win a second title when they take on Mali, Mauritania and The Gambia in the group stages.

8.   Abubeker Nassir (21)

Country: Ethiopia

Club: Ethiopian Coffee S.C. Annual salary unknown

Position: Forward

The top scorer in the Ethiopian Premier League will be hoping to attract the eye of European football scouts when he debuts at AfCON, especially Arsenal which is his dream team. South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs were said to be keen to sign him but he chose to stay home. Ethiopia has a tough group with Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Cape Verde and will play their first match against Cape Verde on Sunday 9 January.

9.   Frank Onyeka (24)

Country: Nigeria

Club: Brentford. Annual salary of £1.7m

Position: Midfielder

Onyeka was a star in the Danish Superliga where he helped FC Midtjylland (FCM) win the title twice and the Danish Cup in 2019. Onyeka made his first international appearance when Nigeria played Algeria in Austria in 2020.

Due to Oghenekaro Etebo’s injury, the midfielder is expected to make his first-ever appearance in AfCON this year.

10. Kamaldeen Sulemana (19)

Country: Ghana

Club: Stade Rennais FC. Annual salary of £330k

Position: Winger

At the mere age of nineteen, Sulemana is considered a prospective African star, with the potential to be the next Samuel Eto’o or Didier Drogba. He attended the Right to Dream academy in Ghana and signed a five-year contract with Danish club, FC Nordsjælland, in 2020. The Ghanaian’s hard work and sensational form earned him a €20 million move to Ligue 1 side, Stade Rennais FC, the following year.

Touted as the ‘new danger man’, courtesy of his pace, dribbling, and ability to craft goalscoring opportunities, Kamaldeen is set to shine at this year’s AfCON when the Black stars take on Morocco, Gabon and Comoros in the group stage.

Predict the outcome of the group stages

Group Stage - African Cup of Nations 2021

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Group A

Burkina Faso vs Cameroon vs Cape Verde Islands vs Ethiopia

Group B

Guinea vs Malawi vs Senegal vs Zimbabwe

Group C

Comoros Islands vs Gabon vs Ghana vs Morocco

Group D

Egypt vs Guinea Bissau vs Nigeria vs Sudan

Group E

Algeria vs Ivory Coast vs Equatorial Guinea vs Sierra Leone

Group F

Gambia vs Mali vs Mauritania vs Tunisia
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